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Employers embrace wellness plans

Men and women run on treadmills at a fitness gym.

Jeremy Hobson: Teachers in Chicago remain on strike today and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is turning to the courts to try and end the walkout that's keeping some 350,000 students out of class. The main issue angering teachers is a new evaluation system the mayor is trying to implement; another point of dispute is health care.

Teachers want the city to freeze prices on their insurance premiums. The city says OK, but the teachers would have to sign on to what's called a wellness program. Marketplace's Eve Troeh
explains.


Eve Troeh: Employers really want to spend less on employee health care. One of the best ways to do that is crazy obvious.

Helen Darling: For people to be healthier.

That's Helen Darling with the National Business Group on Health. She says wellness programs involve employers directly in workers' health. If you have a health risk:

Darling: Inactivity, smoking, overweight, things like that.

A wellness plan might pay you to quit smoking or lose weight, and cover counseling or a gym membership.

Darling: We spend a lot of time trying to figure out what will, in fact, work. What will click with people.

At Healthways, a wellness plan company, sales director Brad Kirkpatrick says plans must balance better health with productivity. A call center, say, wants workers at their desks as much as possible. So they might pay for nurses to visit the office.

Brad Kirkpatrick: Get their blood, their weight, get some vital information without them having to leave the building.

Healthways runs the wellness plan for the City of Chicago. It's expected to save the city $20 million in health care costs this year.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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